Broward News

Sen. George LeMieux Spots Conflicts of Interest in Regulating Toyota; So Why He Can't Spot His Own?

It's nice to see a Broward-born politician like Sen. George LeMieux keeping a vigilant eye for conflicts of interest, even though we're not technically sure he's right -- nor that he's remotely qualified to be an arbiter of such things. A few months ago, LeMieux boldly challenged the chairman of a Senate regulatory committee to account for his past ties to the man who leads an agency regulated by that committee.

LeMieux wonders whether Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia can be objective in appraising the performance by David L. Strickland, current head of the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration. Prior to taking that position, Strickland had worked as an attorney and senior staffer for a committee on which Rockefeller was the chair. Now Rockefeller's committee must take Strickland to task for how thoroughly Strickland's agency evaluated Toyota cars, currently in the midst of a massive recall.

Here's an excerpt from an article from ABC News in which LeMieux questions Strickland:

Strickland has such close relationships with Rockefeller and other senators that Republican Sen. George LeMieux of Florida asked Strickland at his confirmation hearing two months ago whether he could disagree with Rockefeller, his former boss: "The oversight for you in your role will be from the committee that you once served on," LeMieux told him.

"I will be honest with you, sir," Strickland answered. "I've had disagreements with the chairman personally. But he signs the paycheck, and he wins. But I will have no problem with that all, sir."
Not sure I see the glaring conflict. Strickland was a subordinate to Rockefeller in one capacity. Now he's a subordinate to Strickland in another capacity. I don't see any evidence that Rockefeller would want to do Strickland a favor, or vice versa.

If you want glaring conflict, check out George LeMieux's political history in Florida. His law firm Gunster Yoakley enjoyed collecting legal bills from a client, Florida East Coast Railroad; yet that same law firm somehow landed a contract from the state to negotiate on taxpayers' behalf to purchase the railroad's infrastructure for use in high-speed rail, a negotiation on which LeMieux worked personally. Now that's a conflict, as Andrew Perez has explained on his blog, The New Argument. It's the basis for a pending ethics complaint against LeMIeux.

LeMieux performed a nearly identical ethical two-step in his negotiating a gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe, which must have wondered when LeMieux was visiting them in his capacity as a fundraiser, as the governor's chief of staff or as the state's contracted negotiator.

Of if that's not enough, what about LeMieux's glaring conflicts with the hospital district, where he was the ultimate authority on board appointments and executive hirings and firings, yet had no compunction about his firm's representing doctors and district
contractors in negotiations with those same district officials.

In each instance, LeMIeux's expecting us taxpayers to trust that he'll set aside his private interests to forge the best deal for the public. And if you're willing to take that deal, well, then LeMieux has some U.S. Sugar land in the Everglades he'd like you to buy, too.

On Toyota, Rockefeller may have an ethical blind spot. But an ethical blind man like LeMieux is the last person who should be giving directions.